Last Friday night as I watched our magnificent "An Australian Christmas" being videotaped for television replay on Christmas Eve, I thought of the magic and miracle of the Biblical Christmas story, and of how empty, plastic and shallow are these other so-called carols presentation from the Domain and the Myer Music Bowl, which are now only TV stations promotions of their own TV personalities and programs and of cartoon characters featured on their stations. They have only a thin acknowledgment to Christianity. I thought that soon, unless people like us tell the true story, a whole generation of young Australians will not know the facts.
I have seen evidence of that in a TV Guide, where our last year's program was highly praised and recommended as the Pick of the Week. But the TV journalist wrote "This colourful event is hosted by the Rev Dr Gordon Moyes with Julie Anthony and tells the mythical story of Christmas in pageant form using a cast of more than a thousand and featuring...." Note that! "tells the mythical story of Christmas.." Not the true story, but the mythical story! That is the fruit of secular humanism and disbelief, and that is what we must counter.
One of the loveliest hymns about Jesus written in modern times (1960) is Patrick Appleford's carol and communion hymn, "Living Lord". In it he writes: "Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us,
born as one of us, Mary's child."
These words contain much of the mystery of the true story of Christmas. And they also contain the essential Gospel that many modern theologians and ministers deny, or at least, avoid at Christmas.
1. LORD JESUS CHRIST.
"Of all the titles of Jesus the title "Lord" became by far the most commonly used, widespread, and theologically important", says Prof William Barclay. The word "Lord" is a synonym for Jesus. This resulted in a gradual growth in usage. In the first Gospel written, Mark, Jesus is called Lord twice in the full theological sense of the term. In Matthew it is the same. In Luke the title in its full sense is applied to Jesus seventeen times. In John, the last of the Gospels to be written, the term "Lord" is used properly more than thirty times.
Dr Vincent Taylor reckons in the letters of Paul the title "Our Lord Jesus Christ" is used 238 times and other combinations such as "The Lord Jesus Christ" is used 18 times, and "Jesus Christ our Lord", 3 times; and "Our Lord Jesus", 9 times and there are at least 130 occasions in the letters of Paul when Jesus is called simply "Lord". Hence Jesus is called Lord about 300 times in Paul's letters alone. This title is at the heart and centre of Christianity.
It was applied to Jesus in its full meaning only after His Resurrection. Lord was the only name by which they would call Him. Lord is a particularly significant word for Christians. Yet many do not realise just how significant is this title. It is, as Paul says "the name that is above every name." To call Jesus "Lord" involves the deepest Christian commitment. To call Jesus "Lord" means what Thomas said when he met the Risen Lord, one week after the Resurrection: "My Lord and my God" John 20:28. In both Testaments, the word "Lord", meant not just a term of the highest respect, but a term of the deity: God. To call Jesus Lord was to acknowledge Him as God.
We have become so used to calling Jesus Lord that it has no element of shock or scandal for us. It is simply a title, like "Sir" or "Reverend", with little meaning. But for the first Christians it was a word of immense significance and scandal. It was saying that the person called Lord was divine. The person standing before them was God himself! The fact people called Jesus Lord was proof Christians believed Jesus to be the very Son of God. No-one else in history has been addressed as God by Christian people. Indeed, so awesome and unimaginable was it in human terms, that the name could only be applied to him by those who were spiritually endowed to do it: "No one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit". I Cor 12:3
But such was the impact Jesus had upon people that they needed a title of quite extraordinary dignity and power, and Lord has that association with God and His authority and majesty which does indeed bestow an extraordinary status upon Jesus. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to acknowledge His full deity: to worship and obey him as God. Many have attempted, from the time of the earliest heretics to Barbara Theiring, to retell the story and cast Jesus as just some religious teacher. But the church always rejects them. To the Church, Jesus is Lord! The first creed of the Church was Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul believed that was God's vision for the universe, when "every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Phil 2:11. The test of salvation, of how you can be sure that your sins are forgiven is to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Rom. 10:9 So to sing "Lord Jesus Christ" is to make the greatest affirmation of belief possible. Only Christians can sing those words and mean them.
2. YOU HAVE COME TO US, BORN AS ONE OF US.
Sometimes I read Church leaders like Bishop John Shelby Spong saying that the stories on the Gospels about Christmas are mythical and there are no records about the coming of Christ in the writings of Paul. They overlook Paul writing Gal 4:4 "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons of God". They overlook Paul expressing the mystery of the Christian faith by quoting an early hymn sung by believers in their worship: 1 Tim 3:16
"Jesus appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory."
Here is the first statement ever repeated by Christians about the origins of our Christian faith. It sums up three beliefs about the fact of the Incarnation of God, the central element of Christmas: it emphasises the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the universal validity of Christ's Gospel for the whole world, and the eternal supremacy of Christ. That sums up the essential meaning of Christmas. Every thing else: the details of the holy night, the worship of the shepherds and wisemen, the gifts and the praises, the star and the stable, is detail.
"Jesus appeared in a body," this is the heart of the meaning of Christmas: God "became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth." God revealed Himself in human form. Christianity is at heart different from other religions in this one central fact. This is where so many modern people are wrong. 6.
These post-modernists in the Uniting Church believe all religions are the same, we are all going in one direction, we will all end up in the heaven so long as we are sincere. They teach all we need to do is to be kind, and care for this world and humanity and all will be well. That is smultzy clap-trap and deviant from the Christian faith. You can hear that syncretistic humanism in theological colleges, but here you hear the facts of the Christian faith which centre in the unique person of Jesus Christ: "Jesus appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory."
Jesus Christ has been proclaimed among all nations and believed on in the world. From the handful of believers, the Christian faith has covered the globe and as the sun rises on Christmas morning, believers in every country will proclaim Him as Lord. God spoke a Word to the world at Christmas, a statement from the stars, a message from the heart of the universe to itself, and "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth." The incarnation of God is the reason for the pervasiveness of the Gospel. Christ is supreme. The ascension of Christ, His reign in heaven, His coming to gather the saints into His kingdom and His eternal reign is witnessed by all the host of heaven and will be by all on earth. That is the promise lying in potential in the cradle of Bethlehem. He was the Saviour of the world, the One who would redeem His people from their sins. He was born a baby, lived as a servant, died as a criminal, rose from the tomb, ascended to heaven and will reign supreme throughout eternity!
3. MARY'S CHILD.
Scripture presents Jesus as the child of Mary. Some of the Jews insulted Jesus because of this as being illegitimate. Jn 8:41 "We are not illegitimate". Mark 6:3 "Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son?" A boy was always described as a child of his father, but Jesus was described as "Mary's son". So why does Matthew trace the ancestry of Jesus through Joseph? You will notice on a close study of the ancestors of Jesus, that Matthew 1:6 traces Jesus' ancestry through Solomon and hence down to Joseph, while Luke 3:31 traces the ancestry of Jesus through Solomon's older brother Nathan and so down to Mary. Both Joseph and Mary were descended from King David through his sons. So Lk 2:4 "Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David."
As Joseph's adopted Son, Jesus was his legal heir, so far as inheritance was concerned. Notice the wording Matt 1:16 "and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Every other person in the list says "Abraham was the father of Isaac..." and so on except the last, where Joseph is not said to be the father of Jesus. Rather Joseph is referred to as "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ." Luke 3:23-38 records the ancestors of Mary all the way back beyond the time of Abraham to Adam and the commencement of humanity. This is implied: v23 Jesus "was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph." This "so it was thought" indicates that Jesus was not really the biological son of Joseph. Jesus was descended from David naturally through Nathan and legally through Solomon.
In Bethlehem, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" Jn 1:18. When God wanted to redeem us, He did not throw a bolt of lightning from heaven as men pictured Zeus doing to frighten hell out of them. He did not put a woofer on Mars and a tweeter on Venus and seduce us like a celestial siren. He did not order or demand obedience. Instead, Phil 2:5-8
"Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!"
This essential Christmas Gospel gives us the basis for our ministry. Any successful ministry must start with Christian people taking flesh amid the city streets, and being the Word of God within the city, walking humbly among people. The Christmas story calls us from paternalistic pedestals to be alongside people as servants. Australians are becoming bored with the poor at Christmas time. Many are callous to the children in need. And too many Church bureaucrats have removed themselves from the standards and beliefs of ordinary members in the pews and the need of people in the streets. The message of Christmas, is to be humbly among believers and the poor, to be today the Lord Jesus Christ's hands and feet, His words and deeds, His presence in the world. Wesley Mission people preach that message and perform those deeds alongside people: word become flesh. The poor in every city relate to one born among poverty in a manger of straw, the "Lord Jesus Christ, for you have come to us, born as one of us, Mary's child."
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE SEARCH FOR THE REAL JESUS D Winter H & S 1982
THE ZONDERVAN DICTIONARY OF CHRISTIAN LITERACY L Richards Lamplighter Books 1987
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